As a small business owner myself, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that our biggest fear is getting talked into buying something and then later finding out that we bought the wrong thing. We’re terrified of the idea that we’ll somehow make this mistake one too many times and it will eventually cost us our entire business.
We also are pretty apt to gravitate to the “latest and greatest” thing. How many apps do you have sitting on your phone or desktop that you never use? And what about those masterminds or meet-ups you keep meaning to go to?
You see the digital space is notorious for taking advantage of unsuspecting business owners who have not yet begun to traverse the steep learning curve of marketing online. In fact, small businesses often find the web so confusing they just throw their hands up in the air and go back to what they know best.
I’ll admit it – it’s much easier just to print a flyer or hang-up streamers on “Opening Day” – but is that really doing anything new for your business? Are new customers coming in by the truckload from that flyer or banner hanging outside your store? So let’s be real here for a moment – times have changed.
The internet isn’t going away anytime soon. That means more and more businesses will have access to new customers, in ways they never did before – including access to YOUR customer base.
This also means you too have the potential to gain (or lose) market share even more quickly than ever before, in some cases, without you even knowing it. So ignoring the reach and power of the web just isn’t a good idea anymore. We’re all participating in a global marketplace whether we like it or not and this actually is a good thing.
OK – I know what you’re thinking by now. That’s all well and good but I’ve got a business to run and “this stuff” keeps changing all the time! How am I supposed to keep up with all of this stuff and run my business?
Well here’s the good news. In short – you can’t keep up with all of this stuff. That’s why you’re reading a blog like this. Let me (or somebody else) keep up with all of this stuff for you.
You see, the first thing you’ve got to do is give yourself a fighting chance and choose the right tools to build a scalable and affordable foundation for your business online. One that can grow with you so you won’t have to start from scratch and that begins with your website’s hosting package & platform.
Typically a small business comes across their website from some rather “convenient” situations. This usually happens when other business services, use websites as a “bonus” to get you to sign-up with them.
So in this post, I want to give you the “low down” on why all website packages aren’t created equally and help you figure out which one is best for you, your business and your budget.
A Free Website with Your Order
I call this the “Do You Want Fries with That?” package. This is the sales tactic of choice for the telephone guy, the print & promo guy and the merchant account rep. We’ve seen these before. They come in to talk you about your business phone package and offer you a cheap or a free website with email.
You jump at the chance because it’s convenient – so why not? Well take a look at the fine print.
These “free websites” have hosting packages that are typically overpriced. The fees are buried in your bill and they could be as much as $65/month just for hosting in a $185/$200 phone bill for example.
They rarely have any features that allow you to update or change your site’s content without paying a ridiculous fee to get their “support” team to do it, if they offer any support for them at all. Remember they’re in the telecom, print & promo or credit card business.
Web hosting from a reliable independent seller (like GoDaddy or Blue Host) go for on average $3.99 to $6.99/month. That’s nearly a 10th of the price and you can get web design services with more choices and flexibility.
What About Those Free Templates?
Again, these templates are usually made with horrible old, dated software (that nobody wants anymore) that they can get (in bulk) on the cheap. They’re rarely user or mobile friendly. So what’s their motivation?
Well aren’t you going to need someone to print-up those t-shirts and mugs? Aren’t you going to accept credit cards? This means there will be more trans fees for the credit card processor to collect. My two cents? Drop these types of plans or never sign-up for them in the first place.
Instead choose a more flexible and scalable website or theme using a content management system like WordPress, Joomla, Magento or Drupal. My top choice would be WordPress here.
“But They Write the Content for Me” Package
And what about those companies who write the content for you? It depends on what they offer.
The ones to avoid are those who offer to write you 1 generic blog post and maybe and 1 generic email a month, which is useless because it won’t build you any SEO. You have to write a lot more content than that and promote it on a regular basis to get any real traction online. That requires a more considerable investment than the usual $39 to $69 a month fee these companies charge.
All of these so-called services and “bonuses” are overpriced gimmicks – that make you feel better in the short term but will pick your wallet clean, further down the road.
There are more legitimate content creation services like GoDaddy Social (formerly Main Street Hub) and Marketing 360 and if you’re on a tight budget, outsource these services via platforms such as Upwork and People Per Hour.
If you’d like to dig a little deeper on this, click here to sign-up for my free webinar where I share how you can make your website work for you & your customers.
What About Site Builders & E-Commerce Sites?
Site builders are easy to set-up and good for start-ups. They’re reasonably priced from $14 – $40/month. More often than not, you will have to pay for key features and functionality, which you can often get for free with a content management system like WordPress or Joomla or you have to wait until they decide that your feature is important enough for them to create it for their customers. That’s not always convenient for you.
If they have e-commerce features you want to be on the lookout for the listing fees and transaction fees for credit cards. They vary and can be quite high.
This is no different from other commerce platforms like Etsy and Ebay except that you have the visitors undivided attention and you have the freedom to present your products or services exactly the way you want to, without the cookie-cutter layouts.
On the upswing, the templates for these platforms, have gotten much better but they rely heavily on good photography and content creation to make them “sing”. If you don’t have much content, those great demos you see on their websites, can look pretty empty and plain on yours.
You also want to make sure that you register your web address (aka domain) separate from them.
OK So All This “Cheap & Free Stuff” is Bogus – So Now What?
Don’t get me wrong, there are some more-than-legitimate phone companies, niche content marketing firms, print & promo and credit card services out there that “educate” their customers on how to market and promote their businesses the right way.
But here’s the thing – what if you decide to go with a different phone company? What if you want to switch credit card processors? They now host your site and all of the content that you’ve worked so hard to produce.
What if that company goes out of business or merges with another company and they decide to drop the “free website thing” altogether? Where does that leave you?
Sometimes it leaves you in the lurch and other times it leads you to web designers like me, who have to tell you that you’re going to have to start over. Ouch! It’s painful but true.
If you learn anything from this blog post learn this. You don’t want anyone to own your website, your content or data but you. No one. Not Facebook or Google or the phone company or the credit card processor or even me.
Nobody should manage your website but you, with a reliable and preferably established web host – because you never know what will happen to the other guy.
Trust me, I’ve heard everything from web hosting wholesalers “hijacking” their clients websites to people dying and having their client’s sites hosted in another country with no way for them to easily reclaim them.
Remember you always want as few people between you and your customer as possible. OK – so I’ve told you all of this free stuff is bogus, so what should you actually get instead? Let’s recap here:
#1 Make sure you register your own web address (aka domain). Do NOT let other people do it for you and make sure that your domain registration is always separate from any web hosting package that you purchase.
#2 Get a simple straightforward web hosting plan with a well-supported built-in CMS application (content management system).
If you’re desperate and have no patience for a CMS – check out a site builder like Weebly or an ecommerce platform like Shopify.
#3 Host you’re own website don’t let someone else “host” it for you. Use a reliable independent web hosting company like GoDaddy or Blue Host or Host Gator.
OK – your head is probably spinning right now if you made it this far and I congratulate you! I know this stuff can be really confusing and frustrating.
If you’d like to discover how you can make your website work for you, your business and your budget. I’ve got a great free webinar that can show you how. You can watch this webinar anytime you want – on the go or from the comfort of your own home. All you have to do is sign-up and you’ll gain access to this free webinar now.
As I said at the beginning of this post – choosing the right web host package and platform for your website is critical in giving yourself a chance to build a scalable and affordable foundation for your business online. But I’d like to hear from you too.
Question: What do you find to be the most frustrating thing about having a website for your business? Is it the content? The technical side? Not knowing what your ROI really is or how much time or money you have to spend to maintain it? Share your comments and questions below.
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Note: This post was updated on July 16, 2020.